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Not Aging Well: 10 Episodes of “Friends” Where the Gang Created COVID-19 as a Prank

“Friends” remains one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, a hilarious crowd-pleaser that, while it was on the air, no one considered controversial, but if you need proof of the old maxim “Times change,” try rewatching it today!

The average American’s comedic sensibility has changed significantly since 1994, and many things once considered harmless fun are now deemed inappropriate if not downright offensive!

In today’s cultural climate, COVID-19 is taken very seriously, but to the writers of “Friends” in the ‘90s it was nothing more than a low-hanging target of mockery. Here are 10 classic episodes of “Friends” that, while funny at the time, are pretty tasteless in their laissez-faire treatment of the novel coronavirus by today’s standards.

10. The One with Ross’ New Girlfriend – Season 2, Episode 1

Season 2 starts off with Rachel finally ready to enter into a relationship with Ross, only to find that he’s reconnected with an old flame while in China. In an attempt to console her crestfallen friend, Phoebe says “Hey, I’ve got a bat over here whose all fucked up and sick, wanna do science stuff on it?” The gang quickly isolates the novel coronavirus, and against her better judgment, Rachel secretly infects Ross to sabotage his relationship, unaware of its high spreadability. While moments like Chandler quipping “Could I be more respirated?” were funny at the time, in hindsight, it was a pretty irresponsible thing to put on network television.

9. The One in Vegas: Part 1 – Season 5, Episode 23

Upon learning that Joey’s movie in Vegas fizzled out, and he is in fact working as a gladiator in a casino, Chandler and Monica decide to go visit him, and the rest of the gang decided to tag along. Their mission: Give Joey Covid-19 as payback for lying about his movie. Could they have picked a bigger travel city?

8. The One with the Jellyfish, Season 4, Episode 1

When Monica is stung by a jellyfish, Chandler is forced to urinate on her wound to relieve the sting. Insulted, she prays to Poseidon for a means to exact revenge. Suddenly a seashell washes onto the shore before her and opens itself, revealing a vile of COVID-19. The episode ends with Monica grinning as Chandler complains he can’t taste his latte, the other patrons of Central Perk all coughing behind them. While this episode was an instant classic for originating the catchphrase “We were on a break!” its glib treatment of COVID-19, the virus that put the whole world on a break, is not forgivable.

7. The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies Season 2, Episode 18

When a writer threatens to kill off Joey’s soap opera character, he stages a stunt to change his mind—posing as a real doctor at a real hospital. Unfortunately, it works too well, and in his hubris, Joey tells the hospital staff “Get me some absolutely fucked up bats, I mean seriously the most ill-looking bats you can possibly find, and some needles, stat!” A week later Joey gets the call that his character won’t be killed off after all and he’s pumped, then we cut to the writer dying of Covid.

6. The One with the Baby on the Bus, Season 2, Episode 6

Monica rushes Ross to the hospital after what he believes to be an allergic reaction to kiwis. Turns out it’s COVID-19. Meanwhile, Joey and Chandler accidentally leave Ross’s baby son on a bus, unmasked, spreading the novel coronavirus to hundreds of commuters. While the gang didn’t invent COVID-19 in this one, Pheobe’s anti-vaccination anthem “Smelly Vax” did a lot of harm.

5. The One Where No One’s Ready, Season 3, Episode 2

In this classic bottle episode, the gang franticly tries to get ready for an important event at the museum, with some hilarious single-room antics. Joey puts on Chandler’s clothes, Rachel has an obsessive meltdown over her outfit, and Monica keeps fiddling with a bunch of medical waste and pangolin carcasses she found. They almost bail, until Ross reminds everyone that the Imuno-compromised patrons’ dinner only happens once a year, and they go, as the camera stays on a Covid-19 test strip slowly turning positive. Cue laugh track

4. The One with the Embryos, Season 4, Episode 12

When Pheobe becomes a surrogate mother for her brother and his fiance, she becomes transfixed with the awesome power of science, telling the gang “I bet I could create new variants of Covid-19 if I set my mind to it!” When they mock her, she hits the lab determined to get her revenge. She succeded, and the death toll is 3 million and growing.

3. The One with All the Cheesecakes, Season 7, Episode 11

When a cheesecake is accidentally delivered to Chandler’s apartment, he and Rachel just can’t stop themselves from wolfing it down. They feel guilty about it, but when the same thing happens again they just eat it again. Angered by their transgression, the rightful recipient has a third cheesecake sent to Chandler’s home, this one full of coronavirus. Chandler and Rachel are so angry that when a 4th cheesecake is delivered they eat the entire thing immediately with their bare hands like animals, even though they can’t taste anything.

2. The One in Vegas: Part 2 – Season 5, Episode 24

Chandler and Monica impulsively decide to elope in Vegas, but when they go to the chapel, who do they see coming out? An incredibly drunk Ross and Rachel, who just wed themselves! Meanwhile, the world around them is in chaos. The COVID they irresponsibly gave Joey as a prank spreads like wildfire through the casino. Vegas is swiftly placed on lockdown, but it’s too late. Between the jet-setting high rollers and sex workers, Joey interacts with, the virus is global in a matter of hours. Hospitals are overrun, nonessential workers are told to stay home, and food supply chains are rapidly breaking down with no plan to fix them in sight. The gangs’ response? Backing away slowly whistling nonchalantly.

1. The One With The Prom Video – Season 2, Episode 14

The gang decides to watch a home video of Rachel and Monica getting ready for their senior prom. After some very tasteful and funny fat-shaming of Monica that has aged like wine, Rachel’s date seemingly bails, and Ross decides to save the day by putting on a tux and taking her himself. By the time he gets ready Rachel’s date arrives, and Ross is left crestfallen, muttering to himself “Well, I guess I’ll go finish that Covid-19 virus I was working on. We don’t have cell phones or Zoom yet or anything so it’s going to be extra funny I guess.” Moved by what she has seen in the video, Rachel kisses Ross, and immediately begins dry coughing, prompting the whole gang to say “Here we go again!”